Empowering marginalized women through digital storytelling

By Saybrook University

In a blog post on the website, German researcher Sigrid Kannengießer describes how digital storytelling provides a powerful way of using information and communication technologies to empower marginalized women. Digital stories are produced and distributed by digital media. In digital storytelling workshops, marginalized women and women’s rights activists develop a forum to tell their stories and share their experiences by producing short films about themselves. Kannengießer conducted interviews with employees and members of The Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) to understand what digital storytelling brings to the feminist movement

In this context a digital story can be defined as a “short, first-person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds” (Center for Digital Storytelling). Digital stories are produced with non-professional equipment. Therefore, non-professional media practitioners can raise their voices through these stories. By producing their own stories marginalized women have new tools for self-representation: The storyteller tells her story with her own voice, with her own words, and also chooses the pictures that visualize the story. Having its origin in the U.S.-American Center for Digital Storytelling, the practice of these workshops has spread all over the world. The main aim of the workshops is to empower the workshop participants. The digital storytelling workshops that APC WNSP conducts are seminars in which marginalized women or women’s rights activists produce digital stories, short films in which the participants talk about their experiences. At the beginning of the workshop, every participant speaks about her experiences within a story circle. After this sharing of stories among like-minded people, which is already very intense and supportive, the participants write down their stories, then read them aloud while recording them digitally. This becomes the audio stream for the film.

To visualize the story, the participants use either still or moving images, they bring photos of themselves, or of other things they want to use to illustrate their story into the workshop, or they can take pictures within the workshop. The women also scan drawings or newspaper articles and they search for online pictures published under a creative commons license. With Windows Movie Maker, they edit the pictures and the audio stream; some also insert music or other sound effects. At the end of each workshop all digital stories are shown back to all the participants and each participant gets supportive feedback and solidarity for the story produced.

Digital storytelling for capacity building and as media competence training

One goal of the workshops is to empower women with computer and internet skills and to build capacity among women’s rights activists. Teaching the activists the method of digital storytelling, APC WNSP aims to enable them to integrate digital storytelling into their work. For women who have never used a computer before or who rarely have access to computers or the internet, the digital storytelling workshop is a chance to engage with new media.

Digital storytelling as self-representation

Conducting workshops for digital storytelling with marginalized groups, stories that are usually not heard can be recorded. Also topics and concerns that are taboo get the chance to be reported. Especially for victims of violence, this is a chance to speak about their experiences. The qualitative self-representations of the victims give them faces, make them subjects rather than objects, which is the danger when quantitative studies and statistics are used to represent facts about violence against women. Personal experiences get a forum in the workshops and through publishing the digital stories online the stories might also reach a broader public.

Digital storytelling as a feminist practice

Being media trainings and providing the chance of self-representation, of sharing experiences with like-minded people, of publishing their own stories and through that process then influence debate and discourse, digital storytelling and the workshops in which these short films are produced become tools of empowerment. Moreover, the separation between a female private sphere and a male public sphere, which has been criticized by the feminist movement since the idea was articulated, can be destabilized as marginalized women become visible through their films. But even though a feminist public sphere can be created though publishing these stories, the problem remains that these stories might not enter the mainstream, the public sphere which is still dominated by male (media) producers.

Still, the storytellers are the owners of their stories, as explained above, they agree on publishing their films or not. Being in this position itself is empowering, as women are often not the owner of the goods they produce. Moreover, the participants also learn to use the technology needed for producing the story and through that also get a sense of control. These experiences might last after the workshop and encourage the women to stand up for their rights even in situations where they struggle for equality and justice.

For more information, see Kannengießer’s original post.